As of today, the NL East projects to be a very competitive battle. According to FanGraphs Depth Chart projections every team, except perhaps the Marlins, should be firmly in the running. Currently, the Mets are the favorites to win the division, but let’s break it down position by position.
The Mets rotation is already projected the best of the group, but they actually could be scored higher if Noah Syndergaard (likely returning around mid-year) were included. The Marlins are rated the lowest, but definitely have some high upside arms. The Nationals rotation should be solid as usual, but the 4/5 spots may be issues and the injury bug has hit them hard of late. The Phillies rotation is very top heavy with Nola and Wheeler projected for the majority of the groups WAR. That brings us to the Braves, who I believe are criminally underrated. Fried is projected for 2.8 WAR after putting up 1.5 WAR in just 11 starts in 2020 and 3.0 WAR in 2019. Mike Soroka is projected for 1.9 WAR after a 4.0 WAR 2019 season. Charlie Morton is projected for 3.2 WAR after a 6.1 WAR 2019. Anderson being a rookie and Smyly transitioning back to starting are questionable, but I believe they too will outshine their projections of 1.5 and 1.4, respectively.
For the lineups, I included the teams most likely DH at the end, but did not include them in the WAR calculation as these players are included in the bench section. By the slimmest of margins, the Mets edged the Braves for the top spot here. This is a very tight race, other than the Marlins, but all 4 teams have a talented core with some question marks at the bottom. Anything could change before opening day, but whichever team makes the big addition will likely take the “offseason trophy” in this area. For example, Marcell Ozuna’s projected 3.3 WAR would likely push the Braves out of reach of the rest of the teams, projections wise.
The Braves electric bullpen from 2020 has lost a few key pieces in Darren O’Day, Shane Greene and Mark Melancon. This could definitely change, but as of now they’re still projected as the second-best unit in the NLE, again behind the Mets. Diaz and May make up the majority of the Mets projection, but they have some high upside big names. The Nationals acquisition of Brad Hand should help them out and the Phillies added Bradley and Alvarado, but that pen has been a dumpster fire the past few years, much like the 2019 Braves. This is the one area I expect the most change from now to opening day. If Grant Dayton is in fact in consideration, I’d rather see someone with higher upside like Sean Newcomb or Huascar Ynoa get the spot.
I expect that every team will have 2-3 names on this list that won’t end up making the roster. With good reason too, as 3 of the 5 teams are projected for negative WAR from their bench units. Personally, I wouldn’t be upset to see a completely different 5 names on the Braves side.
All in all, the Mets are projected to take the paper crown, but the Nats, Braves and Phillies aren’t far behind. One injury or big acquisition could change this race entirely. Additionally, I wouldn’t count the Marlins out just yet. They may be young but they have talent and upside and they won’t lay down and die before the season ends. Looking at these numbers, I feel confident that with the right moves the Braves can be setup well for a 4th straight NL East crown. As things sit today, however, the odds are questionable and will likely hinge on how the Braves 6-9 hitters play to determine how far they can go.